The championship match of the BB&T Atlanta Open will be a test of power between Gilles Muller and Andy Roddick.
The heat, both natural and from Sunday’s serves, may remind Atlanta old-timers of the steel mill that was on the grounds before Atlantic Station was constructed.
Fans got a glimpse of what was to come during the humidity of Saturday’s semifinals, in which Muller hammered Go Soeda with 17 aces to win 6-4, 6-3. Roddick, wearing red, white and blue sneakers, fired seven aces to beat John Isner, who fired 26 of his own, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4. Their first set was delayed by rain for 44 minutes, the fifth weather-related stoppage in six days. The championship match is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday.
Roddick has a chance to win in the city where he won his first professional event 11 years ago on clay at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Returning recently from injury, Roddick is playing well. He has won 10 of his past 11 matches, including a tournament in Eastbourne, England, as he prepares for Sunday’s final and the upcoming Olympics.
“I’m excited,” Roddick said. “I have a chance to win my second tournament in three tournaments.”
When they returned with Isner leading 3-2, Roddick took advantage of Isner’s inconsistent forehand to break him and take a 4-3 lead in the first. Roddick then twice held serve to take the set.
“I took care of my serve,” Roddick said. “I did what I was supposed to do. You aren’t going to beat John if you get broken a lot.”
Neither player could break the other in the second set because of the effectiveness of their serves. Isner broke through in the tiebreaker, stealing the third game and then holding serve to win. Isner committed 29 unforced errors to Roddick’s nine in the first two sets. But Isner offset the wildness with 20 aces to Roddick’s six.
Roddick missed a chance to break Isner and take a 5-3 lead in the final set. Roddick had four break points but was unable to finish the game, throwing his racket after Isner brought it back to deuce a second time. Isner followed by hammering an ace, his 24th, to move within a point of holding serve. Roddick volleyed into the net on the next serve to tie the match, 4-4.
Roddick held serve to move ahead 5-4 and broke Isner, whose forehand again let him down with more unforced errors, to win the third set.
“I didn’t hit it as well as I would have liked,” Isner said. “I thought that was pretty apparent to see. All three matches in this tournament I missed a lot of forehands. I was a little bit off in all that area.
“To do well in a tournament I need that shot and it wasn’t really there for me.”
Isner, the tournament’s top seed and a former standout at Georgia, said he took a while to get into a rhythm after they returned from the rain delay. It was the same issue he said he had after the rain delay in Friday’s match against Jack Sock.
“I don’t feel like … it’s not like I wasn’t prepared,” Isner said. “I just came out and missed a lot of balls, which is exactly what I did last night. I’d like to think it was just a coincidence but I don’t think so.”
Though Isner won’t be playing, serves will still be what to watch in Sunday’s final.
Muller and Roddick are two of the more effective servers on the ATP Tour. They rank in the top 30 in aces and first-serve points won. But Muller’s first serve could be considered more effective. He is third on the tour in first-serve points won, at 79 percent, compared with Roddick’s 72 (No. 26). Muller won points on 94 percent of his first serves against Soeda to raise his rate to 86 percent during the Atlanta Open.
“I know if I put a high-percentage first serve in, I’m getting a lot of free points,” Muller said. “I didn’t serve well at the beginning of the week, but yesterday and today was very good.”
While his serve may be the equal Roddick’s, he lacks his experience in championship matches.
Roddick has 31 titles. Muller lost in the finals in Los Angeles (2005) and Washington (2004). But he has had success in Atlanta, reaching the second round as a qualifier in 2010 and semifinals last year. Both times he was beaten by Isner.
Muller said he didn’t change his preparation to try to get better results this year, pointing out he may have simply gotten luckier because his opponent in the second round, two-time defending champ Mardy Fish, had to retire with an injury.
Who needs luck when you’ve got a serve like Muller’s?
“I don’t know what is, but I’m definitely coming back next year, too,” Muller said.
Muller is 1-3 against Roddick, losing him to 6-3, 6-2 in Miami earlier this year. Roddick said Sunday’s final against Muller will be similar to the Saturday’s semifinal against Isner.
“I’m just going to have to put a lot of returns in play and get into the points a little bit,” Roddick said.
Atlanta’s Donald Young and partner Raven Klaasen were beaten in the semifinals of the doubles tournament by Xavier Malisse and Michael Russell, 6-4, 4-6 (10-5) on Saturday. Malisse/Russell will face Ryan Harrison and Matthew Ebden in Sunday’s championship match.